Before I created the first version of GdZ, I experimented a lot with various approaches to "simple level design".
"simple level design" is important to help developing ideas quickly. Being able to develop ideas quickly is always useful. If you see big, developing ideas quickly becomes "fast prototyping".
Personally I tend to oscillate between ambitious, detailed pieces that take a long time to complete ( for example, the school in project spectral ) and approaching 'minimal design'.
So I experimented and arrived at the following design:
A so called 'circus' is a walkable area 20 to 100 meters in diameter. One problem in level design is "fuzzy framing" (sorry I don't know a proper term for this). When designing game stages you always need to decide what falls outside the playable area, and whether you have additional, non playable content outside such area. Unlike sketching or concept art which typically happens on a rectangular piece of paper, digital 3D space is infinite.
So, the 'circus' is a device used to limit the size of the playable area. Other than a sky-box and maybe a few clouds, there is nothing outside the circular area. I chose a circle because I find it less grossing than just cropping the terrain using a square frame. A thick, black border is used to delimit the frame. This border could be decorated.
Scaling is another issue. Although I have not set a fixed size for game areas, doing so simplifies the question of scaling. Meters don't mean much here, what is meaningful is "how long does it take to cross a game stage in a straight line?" - time is more important because it is more relevant to gameplay.
There are elements which all game stages usually include; in GdZ, these are the following:
- The player character. It is convenient that the player character
- A portal. Minimally the player enter at the 'south end' (bottom) and exit at the north end (top).
- A cue and a 'landmark' . This makes the difference between an empty stage, and a minimally comprehensive game stage with something to look at (or interact with). The 'cue' provides a foreground element other than the player. The 'landmark' is a prop that characterises the game stage and also gives the eye an anchor in the scene.
According to this, playing a circus is a 3 step process:
2) discover something of interest
Simple? It is meant to be.
So, the 'circus archetype' is just that, an archetype or dogma. Not meaning to limit creativity, it provides a reference / starting point.
In GdZ, most stages also include tween portals and version control (VC) gates. Specific to GdZ is the fact that Gates are often inactive, instead the player need to discover tween portals which are much less visible, and lead to stages of a different kind.
VC gates are a weird, geeky feature which logically appears when the game reaches V1.1 (not the first released version, the next one). Instead of travelling to another game stage, a VC gate takes the player to a different version of the same game stage. It's a bit like "parallel universes".